Buck and Johnson on closing situation
Does Orioles manager Buck Showalter still believe Jim Johnson is his team’s best closer?
“Yeah. I think we have a lot of options and he’s one of them,” Showalter said of Johnson, who blew his third consecutive save opportunity in Arizona on Wednesday. “We’re lucky to have all those options.”
Johnson, who set a club record with 35 consecutive saves earlier this season –dating back to 2012—hasn’t looked nearly as crisp as last year’s All-Star form. He entered Friday with Major League-leading 39 saves in 48 opportunities –the most blown saves in baseball—and is 3-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 57 outings.
Asked where his confidence is at, Johnson said it’s right where he needs it to be, although Showalter — pressed as to whether the right-hander needs a few days off following Thursday’s off day—left the door open in terms of whether he will go to Johnson in the next save situation or give him an extended layoff.
“There’s some merit to different things of that [nature],” said Showalter, who could employ a committee-type closer situation based off matchups for the immediate future. “Depends on how I frame it…there’s something things we’ve discussed. I’ve had conversations. And if we decided to do that it’s not going to be some big announcement. It’ll be something I talk to people about. And fortunately you’ll probably know about it when the [bullpen] gate opens.”
The case of Johnson, who was an All-Star last season, is a puzzling one. He converted 10 consecutive saves prior to this stretch and had been the model of consistency for an exceptional Orioles bullpen until hitting a rough stretch –in which he blew four of five—earlier this season. Johnson said he doesn’t think his recent outings have been about command and said Friday he felt he made some good pitches in Arizona.
“I don’t think it’s a question of mixing it up as much,” Johnson said. “Earlier it was a matter of location. I don’t think that’s the issue [recently]. I’ve been making good quality pitches and just haven’t seen the result.
“I know what my strengths are as pitcher. My strengths are pitching to contact. I’m not going to try to go out and strike everybody out because that’s going to put me in worse situations. So I need to trust the process of what I do and stay true to who I am.”
If Showalter doesn’t go to Johnson in the ninth inning he has the benefit of having experience in his ‘pen with Francisco Rodriguez an option as well as fellow late-inning righties Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. Lefty Brian Matusz could see time in the ninth depending on the matchup as well.
“I know the finality of it and I know the questions should and need to be asked,” Showalter said of Johnson. “And it’s frustrating for Jimmy and me. Not frustrated with him, but frustrated for him. There’s something things we haven’t done in other innings too, but I understand the finality of that inning.”